Terry Westley’s bright young U23’s were somehow held to a 0-0 draw in their first ever PL2 Division One game by last season’s Champions Everton last night at The Chigwell Construction Stadium.
The young Hammers, who were strengthened by the rare pleasure of having 2016/2017 Hammer of the Year Michail Antonio in their starting Xl, missed an entourage of chances against David Unsworth’s men. The side were also bolstered by the return of young Spanish striker Antonio Martinez who impressed with the first-team in pre-season, but were still without captain Declan Rice and winger Nathan Holland.
Overall for The Hammers, England U19 starlet Nathan Trott started in goal with Alex Pike, Josh Pask, Vashon Neufville, and Tunji Akinola in defence. The midfield was fronted by skipper Moses Makasi, who was also with Slaven Bilic’s side during the summer, and consisted of Antonio himself, Grady Diangana, Norwegian international Martin Samuelsen and 17-year-old Conor Coventry. Toni Martinez, who is also expected to be in the squad for Sunday’s trip to Old Trafford, was acting as the lone striker.
Whereas, the visitors fielded a side that included many of the starlets that inspired their Title-win last time out. Notable starters included the likes of Jonjoe Kenny and Luke Garbutt, both of which have played first-team Football for The Toffees.
However, despite the strength of the Champions, it was us who made the stronger start to the tie, as both Makasi and Diangana went-close early. Westley’s boys, who gained promotion to Division One via a Play-Off victory over Newcastle United, were soon bossing the game and had a strong-penalty appeal waved away just after the ten-minute mark. However, the visitors fought back and Josh Bowler forced a corner that was well-delivered by Luke Garbutt, but cleared by Alex Pike.
On the theme of corners, there would be a succession of four of the wide set-pieces for the hots on the stroke of half-time, that were sternly dealt with by The Blue Boys of Merseyside. However, there would be one final chance for The Hammers in the first-period, as Martinez, who scored in similar fashion against Werder Bremen, headed an inch-wide of louis Gray’s left-hand post.
Nathan Broadhead, the man who was introduced in place of injured-Calum Dyson early-on, was replaced by Conor Grant at the break for the visitors. However, the change failed to bring an improvement to the tempo of Unsworth’s men, who were being out-played in every area of the park. One man who was turning defenders inside out was the returning Antonio, but he could only fire straight-at the keeper from 25-yards after a dazzling run.
An impressive attendance of over 500 were present at Dagenham & Redbridge’s home Ground, and they were treated to an enthralling finale to the encounter.
The Toffees had failed to create a clear-cut chance for the whole game, but came closest to clinching a winner with 6 minutes remaining, but skipper Kenny could only strike the post with a deflected effort. However, it would be skill that denied the right-back for a second-time from the resulting corner, as Trott made a superb diving-save to keep Kenny out yet again.
It was now the turn of the boys in Claret & Blue to squander a couple of late opportunities to take a deserved three-points. A corner that was cleared by the Everton defence fell to the centre-back Pike, who smashed a powerful-effort just wide. It was no lie that the 13 PL2 goals scored by Martinez last-year were enough to make him a man to watch, but the Spaniard would miss the chance of the match in the dying embers. The former Oxford United loanee was slipped through on goal, only for him to brush the ball wide from a one-on-one situation with two-minutes remaining.
In the eight-minutes stoppage-time that was allowed by the Fourth-Official, Conor Coventry was dismissed for a second-bookable-offence to ensure a nervy finish, but we held on for a good-point against the League’s toughest opposition.
The draw means that Westley’s Hammers sit 6th in the PL2 Division One Table, whereas Everton occupies 4th place after the first-night of Match-Day One games. Next up for our starlets is a trip to The Country Ground in The Checkatrade Trophy, as a big season for The Academy of Football finally, swings into action.